A Hollywood star and advocate of gay rights has lent his support to Oxford's own gay pride event.

Sir Ian McKellen, who starred as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, wants to attend the festival and could be opening this summer's celebrations.

He would join Lord Waheed Ali, the first openly gay peer in the House of Lords, who is a patron of the event, and Oxford West and Abingdon MP Dr Evan Harris, at the fourth annual Pride Festival, celebrating the city's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender culture.

Sir Ian said: "Whenever gay people gather publicly to celebrate their sense of community, there are two important results.

"First, onlookers can be impressed by our confidence and determination to be ourselves and second, gay people - of whatever age - can be comforted by the occasion to take the first steps towards coming out and leaving the closet forever behind.

"I send my love to all members of Oxford Pride, their sponsors and supporters, of which I am proud to be one."

The actor, whose film career spans five decades and 35 feature films, went public with his own sexuality almost 20 years ago and has been involved in gay activism ever since.

In the past he has been Grand Marshall at San Francisco's gay rally and he took part in the first post-apartheid rally in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Oxford Pride chairman Rob Jordan said: "To get backing from such a high-profile figure is just amazing.

"The smaller regional Prides are often overlooked, but to gain Sir Ian McKellen's support shows that Oxford is being firmly cemented on the Pride calendar."

Sir Ian's busy schedule this summer - promoting both The Da Vinci Code and X-Men 3 films - means his presence in Oxford has not yet been confirmed.

But Paul Stewart, spokesman for Oxford Pride, said: "He's 90 per cent certain that he will be there, and he will open the event with Lord Waheed Ali and Dr Evan Harris."

The festival, which is supported by Oxford City Council and sponsored by E3 Group, Fyne Times and Cloud 9, will start at noon on Saturday, July 15, at Oxpens. Live music and cabaret will be among the attractions.